Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b Ephesians 5: 21-32 John 6: 60-69
The Italians have a saying of indispensable insight. Se non é vero, é ben trovato. “If it’s not true, it’s well found.” Some stories possess a truth that transcends mere facts. With that in mind, here’s one from an Italian actor. Frank Langella shares it in his new memoir Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them (2012). It appears just after he recounts meeting the Queen Mother at Royal Ascot, wearing a bright green sport coat rather than, the expected, morning dress. Langella, that is. The Queen Mother was impeccably turned out. Langella writes:
I hope this next story is true. It was told to me by an attendant at the Palace Theatre in London, where Yul Brynner was appearing; most likely, his one millionth performance of The King and I. It seems the Queen and the Queen Mum were having words at intermission when being escorted into a private waiting room. The Queen was compulsively nattering on about something that was disturbing her. Finally, I was told, the Queen Mum turned to the Queen and said: “Elizabeth, stop it! Who do you think you are?” (218).
If this petite contretemps, between royal mother and daughter, did occur, it was set in a lifetime of deep mutual affection and support. According to Sally Bedell Smith’s new biography, Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch (2012), if they weren’t together, a day almost never passed without the Queen phoning her mother for a long conversation. So, if the Queen Mother did put her daughter in place with, “Who do you think you are?” the slightly exasperated question was posed with love.
Of course the irony, the ben trovato factor, is that, if anyone should know who she is, it’s Queen Elizabeth. At least, that is, if knowing one’s identity is about titles, roles, and job expectations, about degrees, honors, and wealth. But the Queen Mother bespoke a deeper wisdom with her question. She reminded her daughter not of the roles that she plays but of the very relationships that form her as a person. The implied, extended query runs something like this: “I am your mother. The one who has been with you from the beginning. As you speak to me now, like this, to whom are you speaking? Who do you think you are?”
The Israelites are told to make a choice. It’s one of the few that matter in life, because it’s not about things. It’s about accepting or rejecting a personal relationship. “If it is displeasing to you to serve the Lord, choose today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Jos 24:15) The choices that matter most are not about where or how we will spend our time, filling out our hours with their appointed tasks. What we choose to do in life isn’t nearly so important as with whom we choice to do it.
For example, it’s a challenge, but many people, at some point in their lives, choose to change everything about what they do in life. But no one can completely change who he or she has become in life by means of the relationships that quite literally form our identities. Fathers and Mothers do live on in their children. So do lovers and friends. Relationships are the marrow of human life. They determine who we are, who we will be. Granted, many of the most crucial we do not choose, but what frightful responsibility, what awesome weight, attaches to the ones we do. “For this reason a man shall leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Eph 5: 31).
After Jesus presented his own self as the Bread of Life — literally the relationship upon which all else hangs — many of those who had followed him with interest took their leave. They had come seeking an agenda, a program of action. He offered them a relationship, a love in which they could live.
Joshua poses the only question that truly matters. “With whom will you live?” Or, as the Queen Mother puts it, “Who do you think you are?” And Saint Peter responds for our human race. Seeing so many depart, Jesus turns to his disciples and asks, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn 6: 67) And Peter answers, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6: 68-69).
We were created to choose the Christ, to root ourselves in the relationship that God offers, but choosing Christ is ultimately about clinging to life-giving relationships, not rituals or the recitations of words. (These matter, but as expressions of a relationship.) Find Christ in the loves life offers, and you’ve found it all.
"Decide today whom you will serve” (Jos 24:15)
"Do you also want to leave?” (Jn 6: 67)
“Who do you think you are?”
The question comes in many forms, but only one answer matters. “I am yours."
Rev. Terrance W. Klein